One of the key concepts in Kanban and other Lean approaches is Cadence. To borrow from Mary and Tom Poppendieck, as quoted by Karl Scotland:
“A regular cadence, or ‘heartbeat,’ establishes the capability of a team to reliably deliver working software at a dependable velocity. An organization that delivers at a regular cadence has established its process capability and can easily measure its capacity.”
Simply put – how much work can you do in a defined time period?
Now in Kanban, this time period is not set upfront in the form of a fixed “sprint” or “iteration”. The idea in Kanban is to embrace (and eventually optimize) the natural flow of work. Over time, with the same team, a regular pattern (cadence) should emerge.
I am thrilled to report that I have established a regular cadence in my work environment!
What goes up …
For almost a year now, I’ve been using Kanban to manage my personal workload at the office. At first, I used the AgileZen and LeanKitKanban web-based boards. However, I quickly found that I respond much better to the very tangible sense of achievement inherent in moving stickies across a physical board. I now have a small white board propped up on my desk.
Four months ago, I also started tracking my weekly velocity, more out of curiosity than from having a specific measurement goal. After two months, a surprising pattern started to emerge. Apart from one outlier week where my productivity was particularly low due to a number of internal issues, it seems my personal productivity follows a two-week cycle of “up” and “down” time.
… must come down
This discovery of self has been very liberating. Before I understood my natural work rhythm – a rhythm that enables me to consistently produce high-quality work – I was often frustrated with what I felt were “unproductive” weeks. I would push myself harder in those weeks, not realizing that by doing so, I was not giving myself the “down” time I needed to regroup and recharge.
To make matters worse, by pushing myself harder in my slow weeks, I was in fact driving down my overall productivity. Because I wasn’t allowing myself the required “down” time, I wasn’t generating enough creativity and motivation for the following week. A vicious cycle indeed.
Now that I have discovered my natural cadence, I have stopped berating myself for needing “down” time. Instead, I’m embracing my natural cadence. And in doing so, it seems that I may be maximizing my throughput. The last two cycles have shown a notable increase in velocity. I’m not exactly sure why, yet. But I do know I have been feeling particularly creative of late.
Maybe, just maybe, working with myself instead of against myself, has something to do with it?